Coffeehouse Chronicle: Witkacy
Saturday, April 27, 3-5 PM
Ellen Stewart Theater (The Annex)
66 East 4th Street (at Bowery & 2nd Ave)
Why am I precisely this being and not some other? In this place in infinite space and at this instant in infinite time? In precisely this group of beings, on this planet? And why do I exist? I could just as well not exist. Why does anything exist?
– Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz
Coffeehouse Chronicle #153 will focus on the work of turn-of-the-century Polish avant-garde playwright Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885 –1939), known as “Witkacy,” who may well have been Europe’s most radical novelist, dramatist, painter, and philosopher in an era when artists competed fiercely to break away from all that had come before. Writing in Polish yet banned in Communist Poland, Witkacy may not have gained the international attention of the Surrealists, Dadaists, or other Absurdists, but his work remains a striking example of modernism.
Witkacy wrote over 30 plays between 1918 and his suicide in 1939. Despite his productivity, he was practically ignored in his time and left behind no direct disciples, yet mysteriously, has gone on to stir up more excitement among young playwrights than practically any other 20th-century writer, Eugene O’Neill notwithstanding. His influence is perhaps amplified by the enthusiasm of European scholars, but his status as progenitor of the Avant Garde is undeniable. His plays were rediscovered in the 1950s and ‘60s, when they were hailed as precursors of the European theatrical movement known as the Theater of the Absurd. Witkiewicz is known for his outrageously extravagant scenes influenced by all kinds of occultisms and philosophical speculations.
This edition of Coffeehouse Chronicles will include a panel discussion about Witkacy with invited guests: Jadwiga Kosicka-Gerould (writer and translator); Krystyna Lipinska-Illakowicz (Lecturer at Yale University’s Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures); Daniel Pinchbeck (writer); Natalia Korczakowska (theater director and Artistic Director of Warsaw’s Studio Theater); and Eri Nox (playwright).
The panel will be moderated by the Director of CUNY’s Segal Theater Center, Frank Hentschker.
This edition will also include four short stage readings directed by Zenon Kruszelnicki (Gyubal Wahazar), Daniel Irizarry (The Madman and the Nun), Natalia Korczakowska (Narcotics: Peyote), Eri Nox (They).
The afternoon also celebrates GC CUNY’s Segal Theatre Center’s most ambitious publishing project to date: four volumes of Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz’s Collected Plays. The anthology represents the very first complete edition of his 23 extant plays in English translation, including The Madman and the Nun, The Crazy Locomotive, The Water Hen, The Shoemaker, They, The Pragmatists, Tumor Brainiowicz, Gyubal Wahazar, The Anonymous Work, The Cuttlefish, The Beelzebub Sonata, and others. Thanks to this major event, Witkacy’s groundbreaking work is finally available to a global audience. The late CUNY theatre scholar Daniel Gerould (1928-2012) provided lively and well-researched translations paired with contextual introductions. The work is edited by Jadwiga Kosicka-Gerould (Gerould’s wife) and Frank Hentschker of the Segal Center. Graphic design and typography are by Grzegorz Laszuk & Anna Hegman; Biuro Warsaw.
La Mama Theater’s Coffeehouse Chronicles is an educational performance series exploring the history and development of Off-Off Broadway from its inception within the Village “Coffeehouse Theatres” of the 1960s through today. Part artist portrait, part creative event, part history lesson, part community forum, its mission is to continue the work of its founder Ellen Stewart by providing a home for personal and intimate engagement with art.